Amsterdam Case study | The Just City





I was reading through the concept presented by Susan Fainstein “The Just City”. I found it quite interesting. Previously, I summarized her idea of Just city concept, where I mentioned that she conducted three casestudies namely New York, London and Amsterdam. She studied these cities and evaluated them in terms of three core principles namely Equality, Democracy and Diversity. She found Amsterdam as being the closest to the model of the Just City.

She recently visited Amsterdam in 2010 and the changing conditions in the city really got her worried. She poses a question in one of her recent lectures.

Can Amsterdam continue to be a just city? Can it withstand financial crisis, anti-immigrant sentiments, neo-liberal attack?

Explanation why she is concerned about Amsterdam continuing to being a Just City

In Amsterdam, one of the things that have occurred is the reduction in the flow of resources coming in from the national government. One of the arguments she makes in the book “The Just City” is that there were only two major factors that allowed Amsterdam to be so successful in attaining its goals of justice.

Amsterdam casestudy

Amsterdam casestudy

  1. Public land ownership
  2. 90% of the budget in the city would come from the National government so that it could decide what it was going to with it. Also, it didn’t have tax its own citizens in order to have sufficient capital. She compares American cities to Amsterdam. American cities get relatively small part of their finance from the National government. The recent bankruptcy of Detroit was a major shock. It is hard to imagine in any western European city that National government would let a major city simply go bankrupt.

One of the reasons in the past why Amsterdam was democratic as it was, as egalitarian as it was; was because of social movements that existed here and these social movements put pressure on both local and National government for redistribution but now despite the cutbacks there are these kinds of social movements.

Social Housing has been one of prime factors that makes Fainstein so fond of Amsterdam. The responsibility for social housing rests with the housing associations and they have very serious budget constraints. As a result of a lack of public funds what we have is an increasing emphasis in the development taking place with the involvement of private developers.

The idea here is well the public sector can’t raise the money. What we will do is give a lot of land and various kinds of incentives to private developers and in return they will build the infrastructure and they will provide the basis for development rather than the public sector doing so.

Now, Fainstein was in Amsterdam couple of years ago. She interviewed Deputy Director in the department of economic planning and she expressed her concern that Amsterdam was retrenching in its commitment of social housing and yes he said. Isn’t that wonderful? We have become a normal city. She feels surprised at this expression of the Deputy Director.

The same day, she was at a dinner party. She mentioned this to the man sitting next to her and he said isn’t that wonderful. We have become a normal city.

Later on she discovered that he was one of the officials in Amsterdam supporting the government. She says that it seems that this government is becoming overtaken by neoliberal ideology. So she defines normality in terms of what she discovered from the responses of the officials.
Normality is in fact public private partnerships, deregulation, attracting businesses, being nice to people who have money.

She ultimately tosses a question at planners.

What could planners do?

Planning ideology has moved away from being planners should figure out what the good city is and try bringing that about to planners that are seen as mediators, the negotiators, it’s the people who should go around and listen to what others have to say. She argues that planners don’t have that much power but to an extent they do. They need to take an active role in pressing for egalitarian solutions instead of just saying we will try to get consensus here and the consensus is to get rid of social housing.



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  1. #1 by OMARI KISSI CHARLES. TAIFA-ACCRA, GHANA on January 14, 2014 - 11:25 pm

    It’s good to privatized the housing project. But my advice is that the government should lay down a regularized housing policy and deign codes, for instance, a particular site for four storey buildings etc. Otherwise, it will be like Africa where by individuals can build any design to his or her taste. Some even build into a public roads, uncovered drainages etc.

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